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Student survivor of bus crash: 'My friends are on that bus!'

Calvin Aceves was excited about his first-ever official visit to a college campus.

Like so many of the teenagers who would sit and sleep around him over the next several hours, the 17-year-old was preparing to become the first person in his family to go to college.

He was planning to hop on a plane next week and fly north to visit UC Davis, another school he had been accepted to.

But on Thursday, Calvin was at Union Station in Los Angeles, ready to board a bus to Humboldt State, where a campus nestled in a small, artsy city and surrounded by redwoods awaited the teen from Riverside.

“I was looking forward to the trip,” he said. “I had never been to Humboldt. Just wanted to see how it was.”

But about nine hours after his bus got going, Calvin would escape from fiery wreckage through an emergency window and run barefoot from the smoky scene on Interstate 5.

Authorities said Friday that 10 people were killed when a FedEx big rig veered across a wide median and struck head-on the bus Calvin was in.

An additional 30 people, mostly students, were being treated at seven hospitals for a variety of injuries such as burns, fractures and smoke inhalation.

Calvin arrived home safely Friday, went to church and prayed with his family. But he said the whole experience still felt “like a dream.”     

“I need to think about things,” he said in a phone interview with The Times. “Maybe seek some counseling or something. The images I saw … the fire … it’s a once in a lifetime experience. I’m grateful I survived.”  

Calvin, a student at La Sierra High School, said the trip got off to a rough start when the bus for students with last names starting with the letters A through L arrived about two hours late.

Before the bus even got out of Los Angeles, Calvin said his group was delayed again by a minor accident. He said the driver made a sharp right turn on a narrow street, and when another vehicle tried to beat the bus around the turn, the vehicles scratched up against one another.

The students barely felt a thing, Calvin said, and 30 minutes later, they were heading north again.

One of the chaperons, Michael Myvett, was an especially “happy, funny guy,” Calvin said. 

Students had lots of questions for Myvett, 29, on what to expect from the trip and the campus. Myvett, a Humboldt State alum, would answer between taking selfies with students who were asleep.

“It was such a great experience we were going through,” Calvin said. “And it ended in a disaster.”

The bus changed drivers in Sacramento, and Calvin said he tried to sleep in his seat toward the back.

He was jarred awake first by the sound of screeching brakes, then by screams.

“I feel the impact, I face forward and I just see fire,” he recalled. “No people. Nothing.”

Calvin turned around, began to panic and started banging on his window. Soon he saw that people were “shoving each other" trying to get out of a different “emergency window,” and he headed for that escape route himself.

Once he got out of the window, Calvin said he ran barefoot across the freeway. As he ran, he heard three booms come from the bus, and saw people bleeding.

He took off his shirt, ripped it in half, and wet the two pieces. He wiped one boy’s face himself and gave the other piece to a girl who was bleeding from the nose.

The five to 10 minutes it took for firefighters to arrive “felt like forever,” Calvin said.

At one point, he said he tried to look for Myvett and his new friend Adrian Castro. Adrian had been sitting in the seat directly behind Calvin the whole trip, but had walked to the front of the bus to plug his music into an auxiliary cable near Myvett.

“They weren’t there, and that’s when I realized,” Calvin said.

The teenager hugged the next woman who came by and couldn’t help but tell the stranger: “There are people on that bus, my friends are on that bus!”

Calvin would later discover that Myvett and Adrian were among the 10 killed in the crash. He said all the fatalities occurred toward the front of the bus.

On Friday, Calvin said he no longer plans to take his trip to UC Davis, though he will choose between attending that school and Cal State Chico.  

As for Humboldt State?

“I don’t know,” he said. “It brings so much memories.”

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matt.stevens@latimes.com
Twitter: @MattStevensLAT

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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